The Wharton volleyball team ended a long stretch of frustration against arch-nemesis Plant High.
Every Wharton volleyball season since 2014 has been just about exactly the same.
Post a great regular season record. Make the District final…lose to Plant. Two weeks later in the Regional playoffs, lose to Plant again. Season over.
However, the Wildcats may be poised to write a different ending this year. In their first meeting with the Panthers on Aug, 28, Wharton thrilled a boisterous home crowd with a nerve-wracking 3-2 victory, snapping a 10-match losing streak against their Class 7A, District 7 rivals.
The 25-21, 25-16, 16-25, 18-25, 15-12 win was the first against Plant since the Wildcats posted a regular season win on Sept. 16, 2015.
In other words, it was the first win over Plant for Wharton’s four seniors, and they all played key roles in the win.
Middle blocker Jamie Koopman (#14, above) led the team with 12 kills and six blocks, while outside hitter Jeanette Henderson added 10, including a miraculous play in the third set, where she went running off the court to save an errant hit, only to get back in time to take the set and smash a kill. Henderson and Koopman have played since their freshman year, and were 0-8 against Plant.
Senior middle blocker Alexis Morse, who joined the varsity as a sophomore, added three kills, while Deborah Rodriguez, in her second season, had 11 kills and 13 digs.
Kills by Morse and Rodriguez in the first set helped seal it after Plant had pulled within 22-20.
Rodriguez set the tone in the second set with a thunderous cross-court shot that put the ‘Cats ahead 15-12 as they cruised to a 25-16 win and a 2-0 lead.
Plant, however, did not go down easy, no surprise considering they are 10-time State volleyball champions.
The 25-16 and 25-18 wins by the Panthers in the middle sets were decisive and seemed to shift the momentum.
“We had to try and get back to basics,” said Wharton head coach Eric Barber. “Games one and two, we were playing our game plan. I think we were too amped for games three and four and we had to get back to doing the little things.”
The Wharton Blue Crew student section got back into the match for the fifth and deciding set, exchanging chants with the Plant faithful.
Koopman (#14, pictured right) and Rodriguez stuffed the very first Panther kill shots at the net to start the decisive set. Koopman made another block at the net that put the Wildcats up 5-3.
Wharton looked well on the way to the win when the ‘Cats took a 10-6 lead, but the Panthers very quickly knotted it 10-all.
Koopman put the Wildcats on her shoulders, presenting a ferocious obstacle at the middle of the net, both blocking and swatting down short sets. It would be a touch shot from Koopman, snuck just beneath a Panther block attempt, and then an angled shot that found the floor that clinched a 15-12 win in the set and 3-2 win of the match, setting off a wild, bench-clearing celebration.
While the seniors were the stars, contributions from the underclassmen may prove to be the key to keeping the old script flipped on Plant come playoff time.
Junior setter Payton Kenny had 21 assists, and sophomore Gabrielle Frye added 17 for Wharton, while junior libero Jacquelyne Kelly had a team-high 25 digs and sophomore hitter Isabella Bonatakis added four kills and three blocks.
The Wildcats are now 8-1 on the season.